Top of page

Biography Lawrence Quincy Mumford (1903-1982)

11th Librarian of Congress 1954-1974

Lawrence Quincy Mumford

L. Quincy Mumford, Librarian of Congress from 1954-1974, was born on a farm near Ayden in Pitt County, North Carolina, the son of Jacob Edward Mumford and Emma Luvenia Stocks.  Quincy Mumford worked on the family tobacco farm while attending grammar and high school.  He attended Duke University, receiving his A.B. in 1925.  The 1925 Duke yearbook reported, "He doesn’t make much noise, but he is always doing something."  In 1928 he received an M.A. in English from Duke.  As an undergraduate, Mumford was a student assistant in the Duke University Library.  He worked full-time in the library from 1926-28 while pursuing his graduate studies.  In the fall of 1928 he enrolled in Columbia University’s School of Library Science, receiving his B.S. degree in 1929.

Mumford then accepted a job offer from Keyes D. Metcalf at the New York Public Library, beginning a career and a personal relationship that lasted a lifetime.  Mumford spent 16 years in positions of increasing responsibility at the New York Public Library. Soon after he joined the staff, he met Permelia Catherine (Pam) Stevens, a children’s librarian.  Permelia Mumford died in 1961, and in 1969 Mumford married Betsy Perrin Fox.

Mumford’s career at the New York Public Library was interrupted between September 1940 and August 1941, when he was asked to analyze the Library of Congress’s cataloging operations and make recommendations for their improvement.  After the committee report was issued, Librarian Archibald MacLeish persuaded Mumford to take a leave of absence from the New York Public Library to organize the new Processing Department at the Library of Congress and serve as its director.  In his 1941 Annual Report, MacLeish said Mumford performed "a minor–perhaps a major–miracle" during his year there.

In 1945, Mumford became assistant director at the Cleveland Public Library and director in 1950.  At Cleveland, Mumford won consistent gains in the library’s budget, skillfully dealing with city officials and business leaders.  He served as president of the Ohio Library Association (1947-48), and chaired several committees of the American Library Association (ALA) between 1944 and 1953.  He was elected president of ALA for 1954-55.

On April 22, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Mumford to become Librarian of Congress; when confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first professionally trained librarian to be appointed Librarian of Congress.  In 1939, the ALA had opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s nomination of writer and poet Archibald MacLeish because he was not a trained librarian. Luther H. Evans, Mumford’s immediate predecessor, was a political scientist.

Relations between the Congress and the Library had deteriorated during the Evans administration, and Congress refused to approve the Librarian’s requests for a greatly increased budget.  Speaking in the U.S. House of Representatives in favor of Mumford’s nomination, Congresswoman Frances P. Bolton of Ohio said the Library of Congress was "in need of a very real housecleaning… (it) has fallen into patterns of inefficient and unwise operations."

Mumford immediately learned about Congressional unhappiness with his predecessors.  At the Library’s 1954 budget hearings he was told "The Librarian should be mindful that the Library is the instrument and the creature of Congress."  At his confirmation hearings that July he heard complaints about Evans’s frequent absences from Washington and learned that some members of Congress felt the Library should consider "withdrawing" or at least "de-emphasizing" many of its national services.  Mumford promised to be a full-time librarian, to strengthen the Library’s services to Congress, and to consider all the questions raised by members of Congress and their staffs.  But he stood his ground against the diminution of the Library’s national role, maintaining that its vast resources should be available both to Congress and to the nation at large.

Working to overcome the atmosphere of distrust he had inherited, Mumford politely explained and justified each budget request.  Consultation with Congress was frequent and the Library’s budget slowly increased, as did its staff and the size of its collections.  Further expansion was on the horizon: in 1957 Mumford initiated planning for a third major Library of Congress building.  The James Madison Memorial Building, the largest library building in the world, was authorized in 1965.  Construction began in 1971 and was completed in 1980.  Mumford shared this accomplishment with an important ally in Congress, Senator B. Everett Jordan of North Carolina.

While Mumford’s cautious philosophy worked with Congress, it made others impatient and uncomfortable.  Research and academic librarians felt that Mumford, whose experience was largely in public libraries, was not exercising the national leadership that research libraries expected from the Library of Congress.  In 1962, at the request of Senator Claiborne Pell of the Joint Committee on the Library, Harvard University director Douglas W. Bryant prepared a memorandum on "what the Library of Congress does and ought to do for the Government and the Nation generally."  Bryant urged expansion of the Library’s national activities and services, recommending that the Library of Congress be officially recognized as the National Library and that it be transferred to the executive branch of government where, he felt, it would receive more generous funding.

Mumford and his senior advisors, Chief Assistant Librarian Rutherford B. Rogers and Assistant Librarian for Public Affairs Elizabeth Hamer, decided to rebut the "Bryant memorandum," and Senator Jordan inserted Mumford’s reply in the Congressional Record for October 2, 1962.  The Librarian strongly defended the Library’s position in the legislative branch of government, asserting that it performed "more national functions than any other national library in the world."

The Bryant memorandum and Mumford’s reply were published in the Library’s 1962 annual report.  The Library’s forceful response signaled a new confidence.  The Madison Building had been authorized and more federal funds for education were becoming available.  For the Library of Congress, this translated immediately into new acquisitions and cataloging programs.

The expansion during the Mumford era of the Library’s overseas acquisitions and cataloging programs was in part an extension of earlier international initiatives taken by Librarian of Congress Luther H. Evans.  In 1958, the Library was authorized to use U.S.-owned foreign currencies (under the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, PL-480) to acquire books for itself and other U.S. libraries and to establish acquisitions offices in foreign countries.

The Higher Education Act of 1965, through Title II-C, had great significance for the Library of Congress and for academic and research libraries, providing funds to the Library for the ambitious purpose of acquiring and cataloging, insofar as possible, all current library materials of value to scholarship published throughout the world.

The successful introduction of automation to the Library’s cataloging procedures in the mid-1960s was an achievement of great importance for libraries and scholarship, particularly through the 1965 inauguration of the MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging) system for distributing cataloging information in machine-readable form.  Other expansions of the Library’s national role during the Mumford administration included the publication of bibliographic tools such as the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections and the National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints, and the expansion of the National Books for the Blind program to include the physically handicapped.

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 redesignated the Legislative Reference Service, the department which works directly for the Congress, as the Congressional Research Service (CRS), broadened its responsibilities, and provided for the rapid expansion of its staff.  It also gave the CRS a new independence within the Library’s administrative structure.  There was an internal cost, however: a split between CRS and the rest of the Library that became increasingly difficult for Mumford and his senior officers to bridge.

The last years of the Mumford administration were troublesome for other reasons as well.  Final approval from Congress for the use of the Madison Building as a Library of Congress building did not occur until 1971; in the meantime, the Library’s two other buildings became badly overcrowded.  The Library was accused by employee groups of "discrimination on racial grounds in recruitment, training, and promotion practices," beginning more than two decades of controversy and lawsuits.  A shy man, Librarian Mumford became increasingly remote.  His health suffered. He retired on December 31, 1974.

Although his 20-year administration may have ended unhappily for him personally, Mumford’s librarianship was one of the most productive in the Library’s history.  The growth of the institution under his leadership was unprecedented.  In two decades, the size of the Library’s annual appropriation increased tenfold, from $9,400,000 to $96,696,000; the number of staff members nearly tripled, from 1, 564 to 4,250; and the number of items in the collections more than doubled from approximately 33 million to 74 million.

Mumford was fortunate to head the Library of Congress during a period of economic growth and, as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s "Great Society," increased federal expenditure and involvement in education and research.  But Mumford also created his own opportunities.  The rapprochement he reached with Congress between 1954 and the early 1960s was his most important accomplishment. (JYC)


Powell, Benjamin E.  "Lawrence Quincy Mumford: Twenty Years of Progress."  The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 33 (July 1976): 269-87.

Selected Works at the Library of Congress